DALLAS (AP) — Caitlin Clark put her head down as she walked over the Final Four logo at midcourt, the time slipping away in Iowa’s first national championship game.
Even though Clark wasn’t able to deliver the Hawkeyes a national title, after a frustrating and foul-plagued 102-85 loss in the finale against LSU, the dazzling 6-foot Iowa-born guard accomplished so much that had never seen in any NCAA Tournament before — by any woman or man.
And the AP women’s basketball player the year still has another season remaining at Iowa, and could have two more if she wants, because as a 21-year-old junior she isn’t eligible for this year’s WNBA draft.
“She’s a phenomenal basketball player. She’s showed that time and time again,” Hawkeyes senior post Monika Czinano said. “I think in these past three weeks, she’s done so much, but it’s not just these three weeks. She’s been doing it since she decided to play basketball. It’s a progression to this point.”
Clark had 30 points in the championship game Sunday, finishing with a tournament record 191. That surpassed the 177 points by Sheryl Swoopes for Texas Tech in 1993, and the 184 by Glen Rice for Michigan in the 1989 men’s tournament.
That came after Clark scored 41 points in the national semifinal game over previously undefeated South Carolina, making her the first women’s player with back-to-back 40-point games in the NCAA Tournament. She had her 11th career triple-double in the regional final victory over Louisville.
In her 100th game with Iowa on Sunday, she extended her NCAA Division I best to 90 consecutive games scoring in double figures. She already is the only Division I player, woman or man, with at least 2,700 points, 700 rebounds and 700 assists in a career. She has 43 career double-doubles.
This women’s NCAA Tournament set records for attendance and viewership on all of ESPN’s platforms. That included 5.5 million viewers for Iowa’s national semifinal game, a 72% increase for the network over the previous year. With another chance for people to see Clark play, and the championship game broadcast on ABC, more excellent ratings can be expected.
“I think the biggest thing is it’s really, really special. I don’t think it’s going to set in for me for quite some time,” Clark said, before briefly putting her face in a towel and starting to cry.
For Clark, it’s about more than the highlight plays she makes, the points she scores or nifty passes she makes to teammates.
“I want my legacy to be the impact that I can have on young kids and the people in the state of Iowa, and I hope I brought them a lot of joy this season. I hope this team brought them a lot of joy. I understand we came up one win short, but I think we have a lot to be proud of and a lot to celebrate,” she said. “I was just that young girl, so all you have to do is dream, and you can be in moments like this.”
Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder started crying herself when asked about that response by Clark.
“That’s what our whole team is about. They’re role models,” Bluder said. “They relish in it, and not just for young kids either.”
Just like Clark has done so many times in her career, she made a long 3-pointer on her first shot of the game. That was the first of eight 3s, some at which all Kim Mulkey could do was shake her head — the LSU coach had never seen Clark play in person before Friday night.
Clark already had her fourth 3 with 3:49 left in the first quarter to tie the game at 18. But she then missed six shots in a row, and by time she made another 3 with 7:54 left in the third, Iowa was down 63-45.
She was on the bench the last 3:26 of the first half after picking up her third foul. That was her second offensive foul in three minutes.
Her fourth came on a technical foul she got for swatting the ball under the basket when reacting to Czinano getting called for her fourth personal foul.
When Czinano fouled out with 6:25 left, all Clark could do was hold her hands out, and she continued shaking her head at the referees when going back down the court. About two minutes later, she had the same reaction when she was on the floor after a missed 3-pointer with no foul called.
“Obviously foul trouble not really what you want in a national championship game, especially for our two seniors (Czinano and McKenna Warnock) who have given so much to this program and had to finish their career on the bench. It’s not something they deserved by any means,” Clark said.
“I thought they called it very, very tight. I don’t know about the two push-offs in the second quarter. I’m sure they saw that I pushed off and they called it and whatnot, and then hit with the technical foul in the third for throwing the ball under the basket,” she said. “Sometimes that’s how things go.”
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